The Issue Is Choice, Not Abortion

CBS has said no way to an add featuring a couple of football fans (boy-boy, of course) making out during a game, while it has decided to show Tim Tebow and his mother discussing the story of her refusal to get an abortion in the face of medical advice to do so.

Now, we can argue whether what the Tebow’s are advocating is proper for airing during the Super Bowl.  But since CBS paid a lot of money for the rights to broadcast the event, obviously it can choose to broadcast whatever commercials it wants.  Personally, I don’t care one way or the other.  If Focus on the Family wants to finance the Tebows’ message, so be it.  If pro-choice advocates don’t like it, they can pool their resources and counter its message.

Maybe they could have a commercial featuring a mother who elected to do what Tebow’s mom did but had vastly different results.  Maybe her son is now languishing in an institution somewhere that struggles for funding because Focus on the Family advocates “smaller government.”  Or maybe her son was born, suffered tremendously, and then died.  Such a mother could lament the choice she made.

The point is that pro-choice advocates, rather than attacking CBS or the ad, should begin to conduct an offensive of their own, designed to highlight the benefits of actually having a “choice” in the matter, like the choice Pam Tebow had.  After all, frequently, “pro-choice” means having the baby, rather than electing not to have it. Otherwise, being pro-choice can plausibly be seen as just a euphemism for being pro-abortion, as the enemies of choice have claimed, effectively, for years.

In any case, since the Tebow ad is unavailable for preview, here is the rejected add, which was sponsored by ManCrunch, a gay dating site:

“An Arena For Angry Minds”

The New York Times, in its Blogginghead section, posted on Thursday a short video debate on the nature of the Tea Party movement in the context of Richard Hofstadter’s famous exploration of the historical effects of conspiratorial thinking on our national political life, which appeared in 1964 as The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

The debate, which is a mere 4½ minutes, is between Michelle Goldberg of The American Prospect and Matt Welch from Reason magazine.  Unfortunately, the Times prevents lowly bloggers from capturing its video for our own use, but anyone can go here to see it.

Anyway, the brief debate spurred me to go back and take a look at Hofstadter’s piece, which opened with this:

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.

Hofstadter explained that he called the style “paranoid” because,

no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.

In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

After some historical examples of this phenomenon, Hofstadter moves on to what was for him in 1964 the “contemporary right wing,” but which sounds eerily familiar today:

…the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

Those words could have been written by any thoughtful observer of our political scene today and it is amazing that Hofstadter wrote them 46 years ago.

It’s also amazing that even after a couple of centuries of American civilization, the paranoid style is still an acceptable form of political expression.

Keeping Watch On The GOP

Sam Stein reminds us:

Over the past two weeks, Republicans in Congress have united in nearly unanimous opposition to a series of ideologically conservative policy suggestions, starting with a commission to reduce the deficit, a pay-go provision that would limit new expenditures, and a spending freeze on non-military programs.

He also pointed out:

In the past, Republicans have supported similar proposals. Four Republican Senators who in 2006 backed a pay-go measure that would require Congress to offset every dollar spent with other funds voted against the measure in 2010. The cap on discretionary, non-military spending that had members of Obama’s own party howling in horror was pulled from Republican John McCain’s own presidential campaign platform — and yet, the Arizona Republican said this past week that the president now wasn’t going far enough. Five GOP Senators who co-sponsored a debt commission bill that would recommend deficit-cutting measures for Congress to vote on then rejected the idea when it came up for a vote this week.

The point of Stein’s piece was to suggest that, “the Republican Party could hurt itself by not meeting Obama part way.”  We shall see, and as I said the other day, we shall see what the response is from deficit- and debt-sick teabaggers.

In the meantime, after Obama’s feisty display today on Republican territory, Democrats should be encouraged and keep moving on, with or without the GOP.

House Republicans No Match For Obama

President Obama, during the Q&A part of his visit today to the House Republican retreat, explained to Republicans that their use of damaging rhetoric about him in front of their constituents back home—such as claiming that his crazy policies and plans would “destroy America” or that the health care reform bill was part of some kind of “Bolshevik plot“—made it nearly impossible for them then to turn around and work with him on anything, even if they happen to agree on it.

In other words, if Republicans paint Obama as the Devil, then claim that they want to work with him, they are in effect saying they want to make a deal with the Devil.

I’m not sure, but I don’t think that would play well in the Bible Belt, which, of course, is why Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives, have no intention of “working” with the President. 

I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen the event, which ran about an hour and a half, to check it out here or here.  Or read the transcript here.  It was quite unusual, and I have never seen anything like it.

Obama, as usual, was very impressive, not just with his teleprompter-less answers and his understanding of all of the issues raised, but he also impressed with his commitment to get things done.  And surprisingly, he demonstrated a strong willingness to call out Republican questioners who asked questions that were clearly designed to fit nicely in a campaign ad against Democrats back home.

And, of course, after the event was over, Republican leaders were on the tube in full partisan mode.  I doubt if Obama had left the building before Mike Pence was waving around a copy of the Republicans’ policy book, which was featured prominently during the event.

So, here we go again.

UPDATE: Less than an hour after the event, Congressman Trent Franks* from Arizona was on television repeating the Republican line that Obama’s domestic policies will ruin the country and his national security policies are a terrorist’s dream. However, Mr. Franks did manage to say that Obama was “articulate” and that he didn’t think that in his “heart” he meant to do such things.

Well, I guess that’s an improvement.

___________________________________________________________

*Congressman Franks represents a district in Arizona that although geographically widespread, actually comprises largely conservative voters living in the western suburbs of Phoenix.  Anyone who has ever been to those suburbs can easily understand that Democrats aren’t likely to be wildly popular there. So, what motivation does Mr. Franks have to be bi-partisan, when he would be thrown out of office in 11 months, if he were to try it? 

Republicans Missing In Action On Pay-Go

We will soon find out if teabaggers are serious about two things. One is their anger about deficit spending and the other is whether that anger is really directed at both parties, as they claim.

The Senate today approved  pay as you go” legislation, which is designed to insure that new government spending is either funded by tax increases or cuts to other spending.

So, since Republicans—especially holier-than-thou Republican Senators with short memories—have been on Obama’s backside for a year now about “reckless” spending, and since they have fomented anger and fear among the public at large that the country is heading toward doom because of Democratic irresponsibility, no doubt these Republicans were unanimous in their approval of such fiscally responsible legislation, right?

Wrong.  The measure passed 60-40 with ZERO Republicans voting for it. 

Now, I am sure by the evening newscasts, there will be official rationale for this lack of seriousness by Republicans on the one issue they have managed to use to stir up faint interest in their party, but it is utter hypocrisy and irredeemable cynicism no matter what they say. 

If teabaggers buy into whatever reason even so-called “moderate” Republicans like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins finally settle on to justify their opposition to the pay-go bill, then teabaggers are as phony as we liberals have been saying.

We’ll keep a watch on their reaction.  I’m guessing there won’t be any protests at Republican townhalls over the issue, but I’m willing to wait and see.

J. D. Salinger, R.I.P.

“I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it?” says Holden Caulfield. “The answer is, you don’t. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.”

Roy Blunt + Jack Abramoff = 17,900

Roy Blunt was given around 618 words today in the Joplin Globe to criticize Democratic efforts to “ram through their government takeover of health care.” Blunt is concerned that, “Washington Democrats are bent on fulfilling their New Year’s resolution behind closed doors and with no accountability.”

Okay. I’ll concede that Roy Blunt knows a little about making deals behind closed doors without accountability.  After all, as the Republican whip he made deals and twisted the arms of plenty of Republicans in the shadows of the Capitol during the push to get Bush’s unfunded prescription drug program through the House in 2003.  So, I’ll give him his props for knowing how such things are done.

But the rest of his “column” was just a rehash of the usual Republican lies, half-truths, quarter-truths and even smaller fractions of the truth that I have written so much about.  So, I won’t bother to refute them yet again.  Someone else can write into the Globe and do that. 

I will, however, comment on one thing that Blunt—skillfully, in my opinion—did in his, again, “column.”

Out of the 618 words, he managed to use the names Reid and Pelosi a total of 7 times.  That’s more than 1% of the words! 

Now, he could have substituted the words, “House bill” for Pelosi and “Senate bill” for Reid, but that just wouldn’t have had the punch that using the names of the two Democrats conservatives hate the most has.  It’s the equivalent of parading around in front of Dick Morris in open-toed shoes.  You know you’re going to get the response you’re looking for from those who have a fetish for either toesucking or liberal-hating.

In any case, I have to admire the neat use of the word-association trick, and I intend on using it from now on.  Every time I write a piece about Blunt, I will try to drop the name of Jack Abramoff here and there.  I can’t guarantee that it will amount to 1% of my words, but I will try.

Here’s my first attempt:

For those who may have forgotten, Abramoff is the former big-shot conservative Republican lobbyist-bully who is currently cooling his jets in a prison camp associated with the Federal Correctional Institution (a fancy name that liberals give to prisons) in Cumberland, Maryland.  He pled guilty to a series of felonies involving defrauding American Indian tribes and some elected officials. And during the first 10 months of the Bush administration, Abramofflogged nearly 200 contacts,” according to USA Today.  Now, that’s a nice display of the Republican principle of working hard for the money.

Anyway, while I have never read that Roy Blunt has called Abramoffone of his closest and dearest friends” (as the not-so-Tiny Dancer, Tom Delay has),  Blunt and Abramoff were quite chummy.  

I don’t know what this means, but if you Google Roy Blunt and Jack Abramoff you get 17,900 results.  Here are three paragraphs from one such result, courtesy of USA Today in 2005:

Rep. Roy Blunt and the man he wants to succeed as House majority leader, Tom DeLay, shared similar connections to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and to corporate lobbyists.

Blunt, R-Mo., wrote at least three letters helpful to Abramoff clients while collecting money from them. He swapped donations between his and DeLay’s political groups, ultimately enriching the Missouri political campaign of his son Matt.

And Blunt’s wife and another son, Andrew, lobby for many of the same companies that donate to the lawmaker’s political efforts.

The same story continues:

Blunt and DeLay and their aides frequently met with Abramoffs lobbying team and even jointly signed a letter supportive of an Indian tribe client at the heart of the Abramoff criminal investigation, according to records published by The Associated Press over the past year.

More:

DeLay raised more money than he needed to throw parties at the 2000 Republican National Convention and sent some of the excess to Blunt through a series of donations that benefited the causes of both men.

After transfers between political organizations, some of the money went to the campaign of Blunt’s son, Matt, in his successful 2000 campaign for secretary of state. Now the Republican governor of Missouri, Matt Blunt eventually received more than $160,000 in 2000.

Not finished yet:

In his ties to Abramoff, Blunt was among nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, who pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino. The lawmakers received donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Abramoff, around the same time.

So, there is some material from only one of the 17,900 results you get when you associate Roy Blunt with Jack Abramoff on Google. 

More to come, but as of now, I have used 800 words about Roy Blunt and have managed to slip in “Abramoff” 13 times. 

This is easier than I thought.

With Enemies Like That, Who Needs Friends?

Yesterday’s Globe carried a column by George Will, the country’s preeminent philosopher of “Fred Astaire” conservatism (you just have to read the piece). In the column, Will said,

…disapproval of Obama flows directly from traditional conservative anxieties about government spending, taxing and meddling.

Let’s forget for a moment (but only for a moment) that conservatives spent us and un-taxed us into bankruptcy. Let’s just look at government “meddling.”

We don’t have to look any farther than the front page of the same edition of the Globe. In a story,”Falling fatalities,” Wally Kennedy reported that the number of people killed on Missouri’s highways has fallen:

The death toll for 2009 was 871, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. That’s almost 100 fewer than the number killed in 2008.

Not since 1950 has Missouri seen so few people killed in highway crashes. In that year, when far fewer people and vehicles were on the road than today, the death toll was 889.

Not since 1950! How do you suppose that happened? Considering there are now four times more cars on the road and “Missourians are driving five times more miles than they did in 1950,” it all seems like, well, like a MIRACLE! Read on:

Safer vehicles, improved emergency medical services, safer highways, increased law enforce­ment and educational efforts promoting the use of seat belts are combining to lower the loss of life on Missouri highways, officials say.

Hmmm. Every one of those reasons—every single one—is attributable to government “meddling,” the kind that George Will clams is driving down Obama’s poll numbers. But such overblown claims are part of the propaganda necessary for conservatism to continue to thrive, despite its obvious flop as a governing philosophy.

Conservatives have been getting away with demonizing liberalism for years. The worst among them have attempted to make the term “liberal” akin to “socialist,” Communist,” and “fascist.” They have connected liberalism to big government and convinced many Americans that the government is the enemy.

And many—thousands upon thousands upon thousands—of those Americans are alive today because their enemy forced auto makers to make safer cars, because their enemy provided emergency services and constructed safer highways, and because their enemy educated its citizens about the wisdom of wearing seat belts.

That’s some enemy.

Corporations Are People, Too

Warning: The following is a relatively lengthy entry on the recent and controversial Supreme Court decision overturning limitations on corporate and union political advocacy immediately preceding elections. I assume that most faithful readers of this blog are at least as interested in politics as I am, thus I wrote this piece for hard-core junkies.  For those not interested in such things, feel free to bypass.

The Supreme Court, these days binging on conservatism, sobered up long enough last week to engage in an awesome display of “liberal” jurisprudence.

Avoiding a narrow judgment in favor of a broad one, in a fit of hypocritical judicial activism, the court essentially declared in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations—despite the fact that they are “creatures of the state“—are people, too, and that they have free-speech rights every bit as inviolable.   There are now no limitations on how corporations can attempt to influence the outcome of elections.

Inventing “rights” used to be the responsibility of liberals on the court, at least according to Constitutional purists on the right, who hate the fact that liberals have managed to find, among other ungodly things, a “right to privacy” lurking in the shadow of the Bill of Rights. 

God forbid such legal reasoning, except when it comes to creating—against a century of precedent—a free-speech right for corporations that is now superior to the rights of individuals.  While conservatism’s inner consistency may be challenged on many fronts, one thing is agonizingly consistent about it: protecting business interests above all other interests.  Thomas Frank calls this sort of thing, “industry conservatism.

Jamin Raskin, Professor of Constitutional Law at American University, said that by overturning McCain-Feingold the Court has declared

that a corporation is essentially a citizen, armed with all the political rights that we have, at the same time that the corporation has all kinds of economic perks and privileges like limited liability and perpetual life and bankruptcy protection and so on that mean that we’re basically subsidizing these entities, and sometimes directly, as we saw with the Wall Street bailout, but then they’re allowed to turn around and spend money to determine our political future, our political destiny.  So it’s a very dangerous moment for American political democracy.

Justice Stevens, in his dissent, wrote:

The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.

In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant.  Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process.

Much later in his opinion he wrote:

It might also be added that corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.

Never mind the argument from conservatives that unions are now considered people-citizens, too, supposedly providing some kind of symmetry amid the mess.  As Ted Olson, the attorney for the aggrieved Citizens United, admitted during oral argument, there were 6 million corporations (although many of them are very small) that filed tax returns in 2006. There weren’t 6 million unions the last time I checked.  And certainly no one will pretend that if there were 6 million unions (no matter how small) in this country and only a handful of corporations, that conservatives would gleefully find that unions enjoyed people-like rights.   

And George Will attempted to argue on This Week on Sunday that the real effect of the decision will be to “emancipate our non-profit advocacy corporations“—he conveniently used the Sierra Club as an example—because businesses—he conveniently used Microsoft as an example—”are not interested in getting into political fights.”  Huh? Has he been out of the country the past year while insurance companies and Wall Street bankers were making it rain cash on the Capitol?

This isn’t the first time that “principled” conservatives on the Supreme Court—some, like Scalia*, who long-windedly lecture liberals about the folly of a “living” Constitution—have sacrificed their principles to protect Republican interests.  Bush v. Gore was decided less than 10 years ago, and the country is still paying the price for that episode of conservative judicial activism.

But this decision may do more long-term damage to our democracy than even assuring the election of George W. Bush did, as hard as that is to imagine.  Nothing in recent memory has the potential to truly make our country a “fascist” state than the unrestrained corporate political advocacy now permissable.

I say, “potential,” because unlike many critics of the Court’s majority decision, I don’t have the ability to calculate all of the variables that are in play, including whether foreigners—through global corporate entities—will now be able to influence American elections.  (Could Osama bin Laden form a multinational corporation and run ads in the United States designed to influence elections? There doesn’t appear to be anything in the majority’s opinion to prohibit such a thing.)

And although I have much sympathy for the position of  free-speech advocates like Jonathan Turley, who have genuine fears that campaign finance limitations may have a “chilling effect” on our First Amendment rights (Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, made this point), there isn’t much evidence that such an effect has resulted from McCain-Feingold—a point Justice Stevens made in his dissent.

Additionally, it is possible that Congress will tinker with laws governing the nature of corporations—after all, Congress created them and enable them to exist—to counter the ill effects of the decision.  There may be enough sympathetic Republicans to overcome yet another likely filibuster by conservatives in the Senate against such tinkering.

So, after having listened to the oral arguments from last fall, after having muddled through the opinions of the various justices, and after considering a sampling of opinion from polarized legal analysts, I found very little ground left untilled that a lowly blogger could fruitfully work.

Thus, I’ll content myself with pointing out the fact that yet another example has been offered to the public—to the extent that it is paying attention—of conservatism’s flawed, sometimes ad hoc legal theories and its phony populism.  And although they are not, teapartiers should be screaming epithets night and day about this decision because of its potential to completely drown out the voice of “the people.” 

But so clever are corporate and business interests, that they have managed to purchase the newest incarnation of populism, angry teabaggers who have bought into the laissez-faire mythology broadcast by conservative shamans. Oddly, Citizens United, which appealed the case to the Supreme Court, claims on its website that it is, “Dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control.”  

Only in the world of delusional conservatism, does the recent decision do that.

__________________________________________________________

*Reading Scalia’s concurring opinion in the case is, as usual, quite entertaining.  But he strains to explain why his default position on the First Amendment is to include non-persons (corporations) within its purview.  He also makes an awkward (and untenable) argument that the right of individuals to freely associate with other persons under the umbrella of political parties is equivalent to the association of individuals in a corporation.  There is a presumption that when one contributes money to a political party, it is authorizing the party to speak on one’s behalf. There is no such presumption inherent in an individual’s association with a corporation. 

How To Think About The Massachusetts Election

After listening all week to pundits on television push the meme that voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly rejected the policies of Obama and the Democrats by electing a Republican, I decided to investigate this idea.

Admittedly, some Congressional Democrats are buying into the meme and are marching, wobbly-kneed, away from their agenda—an agenda that voters endorsed in 2008. There is a word for such Democrats, but this is a “family” blog.

Anyway, I decided to look for myself and found the Washington Post-Kaiser-Harvard Massachusetts special election poll, which surveyed voters and non-voters in the Coakley-Brown senate election.

I discovered something interesting in the numbers.  In fact, it is so interesting, that people who get paid to analyze politics ought to look at the poll before reflexively spouting the conventional wisdom, that Republicans are making a comeback by riding a wave of “voter anger” over what Democrats are doing.

The poll asked voters three questions pertinent to the analysis advanced by journalists and pundits on all of the legitimate news outlets (Fox “News,” the GOP’s public relations firm, doesn’t count, of course).

The first was, “How do you personally feel about the Obama administration’s policies?” The responders were given the following choices:

Enthusiastic

Satisfied but not enthusiastic

Dissatisfied but not angry

Angry

Don’t know

Now, when I read this question, I expected to find, based on what I had been hearing, that, “Dissatisfied/ angry” would receive nearly 100%. 

Nope.

Only 47% of voters in the special election told pollsters they were dissatisfied, angry or not.

47%? Huh? Is that a number that should make Democrats crawl back in their foxholes and stop fighting, even if these are Massachusetts voters?

In fact, 52% of the voters said they were satisfied with Obama’s policies, enthusiastic or not.

So, given the fact that the economy is still struggling, that folks don’t have jobs or full employment, you would think that Democrats could find in that 52% something to build on instead of punting on second down and ten.

Okay.  What about Republican policies?  The poll asked, “How do you personally feel about the policies offered by the Republicans in Congress?

The choices were the same:

Enthusiastic

Satisfied but not enthusiastic

Dissatisfied but not angry

Angry

Don’t know

Again, after listening to Republican politicians on television and others who see a Republican resurgence, I would have expected that voters overwhelmingly approved of what Republicans have been doing the past year—which is to say, nothing.  (Unless you consider obfuscation, confusion, and constipation, “policies.”)

Nope.

58% of voters, including an inexplicable 37% of the Republican Brown’s voters, said they were “dissatisfied,” angry or not, with Republican policies in Congress.

Huh? How can that be? And how could almost 2 of every 5 Brown voters say they were dissatisfied with what Republicans are doing and then send another Republican to Washington? Especially a guy who pledged to continue those policies?

Is this what is making some Democrats retreat in fear?

Finally, the poll asked respondents this question:

When senator-elect Brown goes to Washington, do you think he should mainly work (with the Democrats to try to get some Republican ideas into legislation) or should mainly work (to stop the Democratic agenda)? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

Again, there is no doubt that any consumer of political television would expect that voters in Massachusetts were sending Brown to Washington to “stop the Democratic agenda.”

Nope.

A meager 11% of voters—yes, only 11%—said they wanted Brown to “work to stop the Democratic agenda.”  Additionally and specifically, only 28% of voters said Brown should “try to stop” the proposed changes “to the country’s health care system.”

Wow.  Now, I see why some Democrats are so fearful. I’d run, too, if 11% of the voters were pissed at me. 

Seriously, while it appears that Obama is going to stay and fight*, the point of all this is to say that the Democrats in Congress simply cannot back away like cowards from what they pledged to voters in 2008 they would do. 

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected to rectify massive problems with the economy, which was in a tailspin.  He implemented his agenda and waited for the results.  Guess what?  They didn’t come immediately. 

By 1982, Republicans lost many seats in the mid-term elections.  Reagan was pummeled by pundits who said he had to change course. But Reagan, to his political credit, didn’t look for the exits.  He held on.  And by 1984, the economy had begun to turn around, and the rest is history.  (The long-term effects of Reagan-conservative policies wouldn’t hit home until many years later, but that is another matter.)

If Congressional Democrats do give up on their agenda, if they fail to at least fight—and make Republicans stand up in the Senate and actually conduct their promised filibusters—then they deserve any condemnation they get from pissed-off voters.

_________________________________________________________

 *The poll found that Obama’s approval rating was 61%, and among Brown voters, it was a staggering 33%. Another interesting fact is that among non-voters, Obama’s approval rating was 69%, which probably explains more about Coakley’s loss than anything else. She just didn’t excite enough potentially sympathetic voters.

Faux Patriotism

The earthquake in Haiti happened on January 12.

The next day, CNN reported that the State Department estimated there were about 45,000 Americans in Haiti, many of them still not accounted for the day after.  The Associated Press pegged the number at about 40,000 on January 13.  The truth was, no one knew how many Americans had died in the quake, and the number of Haitians killed was being estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

An unmitigated tragedy, right?  Something that dominated the airwaves, right?

Here is a chart, provided by Media Matters, showing the coverage of the Haitian earthquake on the top-rated shows on both MSNBC and Fox “News” Channel on January 13, just one day after the devastation:

As usual, on Fox “News” Channel, politics triumphed over everything else.  One day after the earthquake Glenn Beck devoted most of his show to Sarah Palin, Bill O’ picked on Jon Stewart, and Sean Hannity continued his campaign for Scott Brown in the Massachusetts senate race.

Nothing—absolutely nothing—is more important than destroying Barack Obama, when it comes to Fox “News.”

Does anyone suppose for a second that if George W. Bush were president and in charge of our nation’s response to the earthquake, mobilizing the military, coordinating relief efforts, and bringing people together to get things done, that the top shows on Fox would essentially ignore the issue?

My guess is that if there is a hint that the Obama adminstration has screwed up the relief effort, Fox “News” stars Beck, Hannity, and Bill O’ will be all over it.

Again, on Fox, politics trumps patriotism.

A Date With Glenn: But Bring $500

FiredUp!Missouri alerted me to the upcoming Educational Policy Conference in St. Louis, scheduled for February 4-6. 

Wow!  Teabaggers, pack your teabags!

The event is sponsored by Missouri’s own, “non-partisan”** Constitutional Coalition, whose mission is:

Educating others to understand and know our Constitution, acknowledging absolutes as the basis for our laws and God as the giver of freedom, and researching issues through the lens of the Constitution.

For the tidy sum of $350, fellow travelers can enjoy the presence and wisdom of such luminaries (all are listed on the website) as:

Phyllis Schlafly, who will lecture about “Child Abuse in the Classroom,” which is either an argument against priest-led Catholic education or a study of the outrageous indoctrination of unsuspecting home-schooled students.

Ann McElhinny, whose workshop is titled, Science—”Not Evil, Just Wrong!”  will explain how scientific “knowledge” is “wrong” but won’t hurt you.  In other words, believing in evolution is foolish, but in itself it won’t send you to hell.  Only voting for Democrats can do that.

Former Senator Rick Santorum and Ken Ferguson will discuss, “How to rid your TV of ALL Sexual programs and advertisement.”  In other words, they will discuss, “101 Ways To Turn Off Your Television.”

Sally Canfield will educate us on the “How and Why” of “Biblical Sexuality.”  For instance, “how” did the patriarchs of the Old Testament get the gig of having so many women around to ease their tensions and “why” did God later get stingy and change the rules?

Frank Gafney, aka “Mr. Obvious,” will explain, “It is a Dangerous World—America Under Attack.” 

Michele Bachmann will be there explaining the “Fundamentals of a Good Education that will keep us Free and Strong.”  The lecture will center on her much appreciated remark last year, “It is the mother of all ironies…that the kids who voted en masse for Barack Obama are the ones being fitted with shackles and chains.”

Dr. Jay Richards will discuss Economics, under the title, “Understanding Money, Greed and God.”  In other words, he will explain the Republican Party’s political platform.

Finally, teabaggers can have, “An Evening With Glenn Beck,” and for a paltry $500 can attend the Glenn Beck “reception and dinner with a photo-op.”

$500 is a small price to pay to merge mugs with Glenn and hear how Obama and the Democrats are going to raise your taxes by a couple of bucks to pay for Republican failures.

___________________________________________________________

**

“It’s Time For Us To Fight Back”

Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania, has always impressed me.  He seems like a man who would enjoy talking politics and religion over several cold beers, and he seems like a man who would have your back in a bar fight, when things got out of hand.

Last night, he said exactly what needed to be said in terms of what Democrats should do moving forward, after the election of a teabagger in Massachusetts that raised Republican presence in the Senate to a staggering 41 members.  Watch:

The Prince And The Prince Of Peace

Now that the Democrats have squandered an illusory 60-vote majority in the Senate, one that wasn’t really manageable considering Joe Lieberman had a man crush on John McCain and other hawkish Republicans, and considering he is as phony as an Allen Shirley guest column, it’s time to try a new strategy of governance.

While I will leave it up to legislative gurus to figure out a way to advance through Congress an agenda that Democrats can be proud of, I want to address something that has bothered me at least since the false-patriot Rush Limbaugh uttered the F-word—failure—regarding Obama’s presidency.

Make no mistake about it, I am a great admirer of the president.  I worked to get him votes; I defended him before angry voters; I supported his initial conciliatory approach to governance, in which he tried to transcend normal partisan politics and forge coalitions to get things done.  I have written many times in his defense over the past several months.  His thoughtfulness, his deliberation,  and his willingness to wait until he has all the facts before he acts are part of a style I love and appreciate.

But, I am now waiting for Obama to channel his inner Machiavelli. At least a little bit. I realize that Jesus is likely Obama’s model of behavior, and I realize that it probably isn’t in his nature to actually apply Machiavellian principles of princely behavior to his presidency.

However, I suggest that perpetually “turning the other cheek” in today’s political environment will lead to failure.  And it didn’t work out too well for Jesus, either.  His earthly career ended in ignominy, hanging from a crossbeam outside the city walls, naked and defeated.

While I am not asking Obama to fundamentally change his personality, I am asking him to at least consider two pieces of Machiavelli’s advice:

He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.

Obama’s administration began with Rush Limbaugh’s famous, “I want Obama to fail” remarks and his flirtation with moving to New Zealand—which not one Republican politician had the balls God gave man to protest—continuing through Jim DeMint’s “Waterloo” comment, in which the creepy religious fanatic masquerading as a U.S Senator pledged that killing health care would be the end of Obama. 

Last summer, we endured the spectacle of so-called “angry” voters, who voiced such anger in terms fit for a World Wrestling Federation event.  We endured swastika-covered placards; voodoo-priest images; messages that Obama was a fascist, socialist, communist, and racist; charges that Obama was not a U.S. citizen, that his presidency was not legitimate and that he wanted to destroy America.  

To top it all off, we endured the embarrassment of a rude, unruly, disrespectful Congressman Joe Wilson shouting, “You lie!” during an Obama speech to a joint session of Congress.

Obama, of course, largely ignored the anger, at least publicly.  He, of course, accepted the congressman’s apology without highlighting the uncivility.  And, of course, last night Obama phoned Scott Brown, who defeated Martha Coakley, to “congratulate” him.

Why?  Why ignore the Tea Party anger?  Why accept Wilson’s apology without using it to embarrass those who hate Obama? Why congratulate Brown so soon? There would have been plenty of time to shake his hand and offer his congratulations. Why last night?

He congratulated a man who opposes nearly every social value that Obama holds dear; he congratulated a man who publicly suggested Obama was a bastard child; he congratulated a man who has pledged to join a small but fanatic group of Republicans who are hell-bent on seeing to it that Obama’s administration will be the failure that Rush Limbaugh famously wished for and predicted.

Why give such an unworthy opponent immediate recognition and instant credibility?

Anyway, we now have the spectacle of a teabagger capturing the seat of Ted Kennedy, who surely must be scratching and clawing on his coffin lid to get out and demand a do-over.  But ironically, despite a poor campaign and some gaffes by the Democratic candidate, Ted Kenney’s life-long issue—health care reform—proved to be the defining issue of the Brown-Coakley campaign.

That didn’t have to happen.

Because of a noble, cautious, protracted approach—apparently approved by Obama—that dragged on much too long in an attempt to attract conservatives in the Democratic Party, not to mention fringe Republicans like Olympia Snowe, we have what we have today.

Because the White House chose a behind-the-scenes strategy of influencing the outcome of the health reform legislation rather than an open and direct and emphatic defense of an acceptable bill, we have what we have today.

Because of a calculated recognition of the difficulty of overcoming conservative opposition in both parties and a desire to get something passed, no matter how feeble, we have what we have today.

Because from the start the White House took off the table a single payer option and signaled that a strong public option wasn’t even an essential part of reform legislation, we have what we have today.

So, I ask:  What did all the soft-sell strategy accomplish?  We all understood the reality of the situation: There were just too many damn conservatives in the Senate to get the best bill.  But my problem is that the White House didn’t even put up a goddamn fight for one.  Thus, the other side recognized a palpable weakness, and as the calendar advanced, wily conservative Democrats sensed the opportunity to game the process.

All of this confounded liberals, those who put Obama in the White House by actually going out and convincing the much-vaunted “independents” to vote for him.  And some liberals, pissed off that their candidate was not fighting hard enough, unwisely threw up their hands and said “let the bill die.”  Or at least began to stop aggressively defending it against the lies being told constantly by Republicans at Town Halls and Tea Parties, broadcast faithfully by the Obama-hating Fox “News” channel, whose perpetuation of falsehoods about the bill and the “Obama is dangerous” meme came to be less and less challenged, too.

Even the feeble attempt by the White House to challenge Fox “News,” which initially had such promise, withered under the criticism of “mainstream” journalists, who incomprehensibly defended the network, despite the fact that Fox is undoubtedly destroying the line between journalism and propaganda and thus undermining the very journalists willing to defend the network.

Finally, although no one knows how this mess will play out, I will offer President Obama one final piece of advice from Machiavelli:

Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.

Hopefully, in the times to come, Obama will move forward with less “turn the cheek,” “Jesus meek and mild” reactions and be more like the Jesus who threw the moneychangers out of the temple.

Because Obama’s political enemies seek not only his office, but seek to destroy him and the promise and legitimacy of liberalism.

Finite Disappointment, Infinite Hope

President Obama gave a poignant speech yesterday at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, to “call on the memory of one of His noble servants, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Obama said the historic church was the right place to so honor Dr. King because,

here, in a church that rose like the phoenix from the ashes of the civil war; here in a church formed by freed slaves, whose founding pastor had worn the union blue; here in a church from whose pews congregants set out for marches and from whom choir anthems of freedom were heard; from whose sanctuary King himself would sermonize from time to time.

The president highlighted a sermon given in the church by Dr. King in 1956, when he was just 27 years old. The sermon came shortly after a Supreme Court decision to desegregate the buses in Montgomery, Alabama, that put an end to a year-long boycott.

…as Dr. King rose to take that pulpit, the future still seemed daunting. It wasn’t clear what would come next for the movement that Dr. King led. It wasn’t clear how we were going to reach the Promised Land. Because segregation was still rife; lynchings still a fact. Yes, the Supreme Court had ruled not only on the Montgomery buses, but also on Brown v. Board of Education. And yet that ruling was defied throughout the South — by schools and by states; they ignored it with impunity. And here in the nation’s capital, the federal government had yet to fully align itself with the laws on its books and the ideals of its founding.

Sometimes it is hard to imagine that such things were happening in our country only some 50 years ago, but happening they were. And as Obama pointed out, although there was reason then to be “happy about the boycott being over,” some folks were likely “fighting off some creeping doubts” about whether the civil rights movement “could actually deliver on its promise.”

While acknowledging the doubts, Obama was also quick to acknowledge the progress made by the movement’s “Moses generation“:

We enjoy the fruits of prejudice and bigotry being lifted—slowly, sometimes in fits and starts, but irrevocably—from human hearts. It’s that progress that made it possible for me to be here today; for the good people of this country to elect an African-American the 44th President of the United States of America.

Obama then compared the hopes of those gathered at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in 1956 to the hopes of those who had elected him president:

You know, on the heels of that victory over a year ago, there were some who suggested that somehow we had entered into a post-racial America, all those problems would be solved. There were those who argued that because I had spoke of a need for unity in this country that our nation was somehow entering into a period of post-partisanship. That didn’t work out so well. There was a hope shared by many that life would be better from the moment that I swore that oath.

After a litany of continued problems with the economy, Obama acknowledged that just as those who welcomed progress in 1956 but had doubts as to whether the promise would be fully realized, in these times “folks are wondering,” Obama said, “where do we go from here?

And the following is Obama at his best:

I understand those feelings. I understand the frustration and sometimes anger that so many folks feel as they struggle to stay afloat. I get letters from folks around the country every day; I read 10 a night out of the 40,000 that we receive. And there are stories of hardship and desperation, in some cases, pleading for help: I need a job. I’m about to lose my home. I don’t have health care — it’s about to cause my family to be bankrupt. Sometimes you get letters from children: My mama or my daddy have lost their jobs, is there something you can do to help?

Ten letters like that a day we read.

So, yes, we’re passing through a hard winter. It’s the hardest in some time. But let’s always remember that, as a people, the American people, we’ve weathered some hard winters before. This country was founded during some harsh winters. The fishermen, the laborers, the craftsmen who made camp at Valley Forge — they weathered a hard winter. The slaves and the freedmen who rode an underground railroad, seeking the light of justice under the cover of night — they weathered a hard winter. The seamstress whose feet were tired, the pastor whose voice echoes through the ages — they weathered some hard winters. It was for them, as it is for us, difficult, in the dead of winter, to sometimes see spring coming. They, too, sometimes felt their hopes deflate. And yet, each season, the frost melts, the cold recedes, the sun reappears. So it was for earlier generations and so it will be for us.

What we need to do is to just ask what lessons we can learn from those earlier generations about how they sustained themselves during those hard winters, how they persevered and prevailed. Let us in this Joshua generation learn how that Moses generation overcame.

Offering “a few thoughts” on how that Moses generation overcame, Obama’s most important political advice was this:

…they understood that as much as our government and our political parties had betrayed them in the past, as much as our nation itself had betrayed its own ideals, government, if aligned with the interests of its people, can be—and must be—a force for good.

So they stayed on the Justice Department. They went into the courts. They pressured Congress, they pressured their President. They didn’t give up on this country. They didn’t give up on government. They didn’t somehow say government was the problem; they said, we’re going to change government, we’re going to make it better. Imperfect as it was, they continued to believe in the promise of democracy; in America’s constant ability to remake itself, to perfect this union.

“They didn’t give up on government. They didn’t somehow say government was the problem; they said, we’re going to change government, we’re going to make it better.”  What one thinks about those statements determines whether one is a liberal or whether one is a conservative.  At one time, I would have, quite vehemently, argued against such statements.  Today, they express an unassailable truth.

In that vein, Obama urged:

Let’s work to change the political system, as imperfect as it is. I know people can feel down about the way things are going sometimes here in Washington. I know it’s tempting to give up on the political process…Progress is possible. Don’t give up on voting. Don’t give up on advocacy. Don’t give up on activism. There are too many needs to be met, too much work to be done. Like Dr. King said, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

But the president also said that government does have its limits:

Folks can’t simply look to government for all the answers without also looking inside themselves, inside their own homes, for some of the answers.

Progress will only come if we’re willing to promote that ethic of hard work, a sense of responsibility, in our own lives. I’m not talking, by the way, just to the African-American community. Sometimes when I say these things people assume, well, he’s just talking to black people about working hard. No, no, no, no. I’m talking to the American community. Because somewhere along the way, we, as a nation, began to lose touch with some of our core values. You know what I’m talking about. We became enraptured with the false prophets who prophesied an easy path to success, paved with credit cards and home equity loans and get-rich-quick schemes…We forgot what made the bus boycott a success; what made the civil rights movement a success; what made the United States of America a success — that, in this country, there’s no substitute for hard work, no substitute for a job well done, no substitute for being responsible stewards of God’s blessings.

Obama then turned personal:

You know, folks ask me sometimes why I look so calm. They say, all this stuff coming at you, how come you just seem calm? And I have a confession to make here. There are times where I’m not so calm…There are times when progress seems too slow. There are times when the words that are spoken about me hurt. There are times when the barbs sting. There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts.

But let me tell you — during those times it’s faith that keeps me calm. It’s faith that gives me peace. The same faith that leads a single mother to work two jobs to put a roof over her head when she has doubts. The same faith that keeps an unemployed father to keep on submitting job applications even after he’s been rejected a hundred times. The same faith that says to a teacher even if the first nine children she’s teaching she can’t reach, that that 10th one she’s going to be able to reach. The same faith that breaks the silence of an earthquake’s wake with the sound of prayers and hymns sung by a Haitian community. A faith in things not seen, in better days ahead, in Him who holds the future in the hollow of His hand. A faith that lets us mount up on wings like eagles; lets us run and not be weary; lets us walk and not faint.

I know some non-religious people may not like Obama’s reliance on God;  I know some conservatives may not even believe that he is a “real” Christian.  But no one should doubt that, like Martin Luther King, at the core of this man’s being is a bona fide faith, not only in a higher power, but in the power of progress, in the power of the people.

And today, such faith is worth celebrating.

E Pluribus Unum

America The Beautiful

Left-wing Teabaggers?

Political purists on the left-wing of the political spectrum may end up doing what Republicans cannot do.  They may make our country safe again for conservatives.

Besides some of the intense criticism of Democrats coming from progressive places like Firedoglake and the HuffingtonPost, I have read complaints from liberals across the country.  Some folks in Massachusetts, who are obviously sincere, committed liberals and progressives (synonymous to me), are planning to sit out the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s senate seat.

However sincere, such inaction would bring to the United States Senate a bona fide teabagger.

All of us who have a strong opinion on just what philosophy should guide our politics are often frustrated by political leaders on our side who don’t always vote the way we want or even think the way we believe they should think.

And it’s easy to get aggravated at what’s going on now in Washington, no matter what side of the philosophical battle you are on.  Teabaggers are furious with what they perceive (obviously falsely) as a move toward socialism, a failure to act fiscally responsibly, and government control of individual behavior. 

While that is as nutty as can be, those on the other end of the spectrum are equally furious that the Democrats are selling out “progressive” principles by agreeing to various watered-down legislative initiatives to improve our society.  Although that sentiment is not exactly as crazy as the teabagging hysteria, there is a certain naiveté in the actions of some liberals, who are willing to abandon the Democratic Party out of disgust with its failure to achieve any or all progressive goals.

As I have written before, Barack Obama never was the radical liberal that the right-wing haters portrayed him to be both during the campaign and since taking office.  Anyone who has followed politics closely for some time and who listened intently to what Obama said last year on the campaign trail could see that more than anything else, the arc of Obama’s beliefs bent toward pragmatism not radicalism.

So, to the extent that committed liberals are surprised that Obama values compromise as a way to get something rather than nothing, they shouldn’t blame him or the Democrats for their own misperceptions or their own unrealistic expectations.  Democrats are no doubt in control of the federal government’s legislative and executive branches.  But liberal Democrats are not. 

Most Democrats, including the president, are trying to make something good happen despite the lingering effects of conservative poison that still affects much of our politics. Unfortunately, some of that poison is still being sold by Democratic legislators who have their jobs because they live in districts that largely reject wholesale liberal prescriptions for a better society.

In some such places, like Nebraska, the Democratic Party is fortunate to even have a U.S. Senator there, let alone one who is willing to vote for a reform package that isn’t perfect but is a start on a very long road to the kind of reforms all progressives want to see.

The problem is the current reform bill is not a revolutionary piece of legislation, in the reckoning of many liberals.  Rather than see the parts of the bill that were unthinkable a few short years ago, they have chosen to focus on the parts of the bill that represent what they believe is a “sell out” to the insurance industry.  In American politics, revolution comes incrementally, and wise advocates understand that truth.

No doubt, from a purist perspective, the final version of the health care reform bill will be highly unsatisfactory for most liberals. But to kill the current effort by refusing to vote for Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, or by incessantly talking up its shortcomings, is insane because it is self-defeating.

Coakley’s Republican opponent, Scott Brown, a Massachusetts state senator and benefactor of the Tea Party Express, has pledged to provide the final vote to support a Republican filibuster in the Senate and kill any chance to reform the health insurance system—maybe for another generation.  And how many other filibusters will his vote support that will kill legislation important to liberals?

By staying home out of frustration, progressives will in effect be endorsing the views of the far right-wing of the conservative movement, who will now—even in defeat—claim victory because they were at least “competitive” in the Northeast.

In other words, rather than helping to pull the plug on Neanderthalic conservatism, purists on the left may end up giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to Rush Limbaugh, who began his program today by noting that because of what is happening in Massachusetts, his brand of conservatism, à la Jason,  is back.

He followed later by boldly stating, “Obama has failed. His presidency is a failure.”

Only liberals can make that true.

A Heart Doctor With A Heart

Dr. John M. Cox, a cardiologist at Freeman Hospital, has written yet again on the subject of health care reform.  This time, he has commented on last month’s “prayercast,” which was an attempt by righteous Republicans to bring divine intervention into the health care reform process.

The prayercast event* featured a prayer by Tony Perkins, who, according to Frank Schaeffer, is the “well known paranoid and delusional moralist leader of the Family Research Council.”

The prayer included the following:

Life and death hinges on the Senate health care bill.

Now, a rational person might conclude that the succeeding invocation of the Almighty would include a petition that He might convince recalcitrant and gainsaying Republicans to get on board and make sure that the 45,000 folks who die each year because of a lack of insurance might have a “right to human life.”

Nope. The prayer continued:

We face significant threats to the God-given right to human life through government funding of abortions, our health from rationing, our family finances from higher taxes, and our general freedoms posed by the government plan to take over health care.

So, invoking the God of Tea Party Heaven, was actually a ploy to derail health care reform. 

That’s where Dr. Cox comes in:

I wonder if God is “for” insurance companies denying coverage to those with pre-existing illnesses. I wonder if God is “for” canceling insurance policies whenever individuals get sick. I wonder if God is “for” continuing to allow 35 million Americans to have no health insurance coverage. I wonder if God is “for” allowing many more people than died on 9/11 to die monthly because they cannot afford to get health care.

Apparently, Dr. Cox sings from a different hymnal than our Tea Party Holy Rollers:

In certain parts of this country, political theater is wrapped in Christianity. Politicians continue to cynically use the conservative Christian movement for their purposes. This is not about making people healthier. This is not about making insurance companies do the right thing morally. This is about scoring political points by a party who is, at present, out of power. The use of prayer vigils for this purpose sickens me.

Finally, Dr. Cox, the heart doctor with a heart, concluded with this flurry:

The proposed bills are not perfect. However, as I have stated before in previous communications, the status quo will quickly drive us off a cliff. All this anti-government rhetoric is just that. We all drive on government-built roads. Many of us already have government-funded insurance. Our skies are safer as a result of government air traffic controllers. Our country is a reasonably safe place in which to visit and travel because of government police and firefighters. When private industry chews people up and spits them out, it is the rightful place of government to try to make that right. Health insurance companies have not been our friends. I, for one, will applaud when something is finally done legislatively.

And I suspect so will the Almighty, notwithstanding the prayers of his “followers.”

_______________________________________________________

*For those interested, here is a list of some prayercast attendees, either in person or via video:

James Dobson: “I just pray that you will frustrate the plans of the Evil One.”

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who reportedly said the Pilgrims believed “that the Bible was a blueprint for all of mankind… to tell us about economics, to tell us about education, to tell us about government.” Obviously, the Pilgrims didn’t have the foresight to include health care.

Sen. Jim DeMint and Sen. Sam Brownback, who apparently believed that the valiant effort by the Senate’s 40 Republicans—to frustrate Democrats and confuse the public—needed supernatural tweaking.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who in a moment of personal clarity that she kindly expanded to include all of us, prayed:

“And we say oh Lord we deserve your wrath. But would you yet give our nation mercy? We ask for your mercy. We cry out to you oh God this is our moment and this is our time Lord. We are at the end of ourselves and now we need you. We need you Lord.”

Lord, have mercy, indeed.

Two Kinds Of Cynicism

Surely, even the most calcified dittohead is awakening now to the fact that there is something seriously wrong with Rush Limbaugh.  Certainly, it is obvious that there is something flawed in his conception of politics, in his conception of patriotism, in his conception of America.  The pathological cynicism that runs through his being runs very deep.

Here at a time when most Americans are finding ways to come together to help our international neighbor; here at a time when political ideology naturally yields to common decency; here at a time when America’s power for good in the world is on full display; we have Rush Limbaugh—before an audience of millions—unashamedly using insensitive, hate-filled, racially-pregnant language to comment on the tragedy in Haiti.

This morning on his website one could find an advertisement for the Heritage Foundation, encouraging people to “Join the Conservative Comeback.”  Below that banner is the transcript of Rush’s pathetic monologue yesterday about President Obama’s quick response to the earthquake in Haiti:

RUSH:  Oh, this is what he lives for.  He lives for serving those in misery.  Now, don’t misunderstand here, folks.  I don’t have the whole press conference, but I wonder did he apologize for America before acknowledging we are the only people on earth that can possibly help ‘em out down there in any significant way? 

… Yes, I think in the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentlemen — in the words of Rahm Emanuel — we have another crisis simply too good to waste.  This will play right into Obama’s hands. He’s humanitarian, compassionate.  They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, “credibility” with the black community — in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.  It’s made-to-order for them.  That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there.

Although I refuse to believe it, if the American people want this kind of cynical conservatism to “come back,” then it will happen.  But to you dittoheads, make no mistake that when you hear your hero wax optimistic only about a “conservative” America or trumpet his peculiarly parochial patriotism, you are following the song of a frustrated, hyper-cynical, fair-weather patriot, whose love for his country is secondary to his love for himself and his ideologically-driven empire.

As for the disgusting and incorrigibly ignorant comments made by Pat Robertson, referencing a historical Haitian “pact with the devil,” the good “Reverend” is merely following the logic of his twisted theology, a theology with roots in the heads of ancient and ignorant men that has flowered in the age of television, supported by viewers who also hold a cynical view of the world, which according to them will end for billions of people in a bloody, God-directed holocaust.

Two kinds of cynicism, from two relatively popular figures in American culture.  It takes a special kind of optimism to see a silver lining behind such dark clouds.

The optimism that is America.

“This Is Jeopardy!” Starring Sarah Palin

I for one am glad that Sarah Palin has finally come to terms with Fox “News” Channel.  Surely the half-governor will do less damage to the country there, since preaching to the choir of Fox followers will simply reinforce their erroneous conclusions.

But the problem may be that her Bible-based foreign policy musings or her faith-based prescriptions for health care reform will make it into the larger culture through legitimate news outlets, as they report on the uninformed things she will undoubtedly say.

Shucks, I find it hard myself to resist pointing out bizarre allegations about her, coming from campaign insiders, like this one:

“When her aides tried to quiz her she would routinely shut down – chin on her chest, arms folded, eyes cast to the floor, speechless and motionless, lost in what those around her described as a kind of catatonic stupor,” the book says.

“If I had known everything I know now, I would not have done this,” the book quotes Palin as saying.

Now, being reduced to a “catatonic stupor” at the thought of recalling pieces of a vast reservoir of newly-learned facts about the world could happen to any of us, even the brightest jewel in the crown of John McCain’s political career. 

Quizzing her like Alex Trebeck was an obvious attempt by her frantic handlers to find out if their prep efforts were fruitful and if the knowledge they were packing into her head would take up something like permanent residence there.  Alas, it didn’t.

But that’s not her fault.  No doubt, she had the smarts to outwit voters in Alaska, who mistakenly thought they were electing a full-time governor.  And, no doubt, she has the smarts to forego the dull and unrewarding job of managing a state to the exciting and satisfying job of managing her swollen and swelling bank account.

So, it’s not intelligence that the fresh Fox “analyst” lacks. It is a simple but vital curiosity about the world. Something even the best political operative can’t put on an index card and force feed an unwilling soul.  That’s why those nasty quizzes brought on such misery.  Written into her DNA is a program that rejects “facts” in favor of “faith.”

And where else would someone who loves Jesus and who lacks even a basic understanding of the world sign on as an instant star but Fox “News”?

It’s a marriage made in Republican heaven.  You know, the place were God lives.

The Truth Behind The Phony Outrage

From Michael Steele to Liz Cheney to Senators Jon Kyl and John Cornyn to nearly every conservative pundit, the right wing is making much of Harry Reid’s racially-tinged comments about Obama found in Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann:

He (Reid) was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he later put it privately.

Steele laughingly said Reid should resign; Kyl, too, invoking the Trent Lott controversy over sympathetic remarks Lott made about a real racist, Strom Thurmond, said Reid should step down.  Cheney predictably said liberals were protecting one of their own and ignoring his “racist” remarks.  In a fight with none other than George Will yesterday, she said,

The comments were outrageous … I don’t think it’s okay if you say it in private or public. The excuse by liberals is inexcusable.

First, notwithstanding phony outrage from conservative Obama-haters, Reid’s comments were not “racist” in the same way that Bill Clinton’s alleged remarks about Obama—found in the same book—were.   As quoted,  Clinton supposedly said to Ted Kennedy in 2008, while the former president was seeking Kennedy’s endorsement of his wife,

A few years ago this guy would have been getting us coffee.

Now, those are racist remarks, pure and simple, and if Clinton made them (which, of course, will probably never be confirmed) then he deserves condemnation from all sides, including liberals.

But Reid’s comments were in a different class, albeit they do demonstrate a certain “polite” or “genteel” kind of racism we might call racism-lite.  

However, no matter what one thinks about Reid’s remarks, what he said says more about us as a culture than it says about Harry Reid, who is prone to making dumb statements. The truth about America is that it has travelled a long way in overcoming its racial past, from abolishing slavery, to overturning Jim Crow, to electing its first African-American president. But a deeper and darker truth is that our country is a long way from treating all blacks as equals and Harry Reid’s comments reflect a reality very few want to acknowledge.

During the Obama campaign in 2008, I attended a meeting locally with some union activists who supported Obama and were preparing to work to get him elected.  During a talk, one of the activists who was working on behalf of the AFL-CIO, was talking about the difficulties of campaigning for a black candidate around these parts (a realistic concern) and said something like this:

When you run into someone who is sympathetic to Obama’s views, but has problems with him because he is black, remind them that he is only half black and encourage them to vote for the “‘white half.”

Now, I knew this person and I knew he was not a racist in any way I could discern, but as we all acknowledged at the time, there is something sad about the truth he was expressing.  Light-skinned blacks do fare better in our culture than dark-skinned blacks.  And, à la Harry Reid, blacks who talk like educated whites do fare better than blacks who don’t.

Naturally, Democrats, including Obama, are giving Reid the benefit of the doubt.  Reid is an Obama supporter and the top Democrat in the Senate, who is steering health care reform through some rough seas in Congress.  And quite as naturally, Republicans are crying hypocrisy on every news channel.

But the larger truth shouldn’t get lost in the charges of hypocrisy, whether applicable or not.  As Americans—Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites—we have a long way to go before we are truly color blind.

No Cause For Hysteria

Obviously, all of us are justifiably concerned about the utter failure of our government to stop the panty bomber from getting a U.S. visa or getting on an airplane bound for Detroit.

But what isn’t so obvious, and what we sometimes fail to appreciate, is the fact that after eight years of prosecuting a “war” against al Qaeda (despite the rather large and costly deviation in Iraq), we have made considerable progress.

Thanks to the Bush administration’s initial efforts (which lost focus after Iraq), and thanks to the Obama administration’s refocusing on the terrorist group, al Qaeda is just not what it used to be, even though what it is now is menacing enough.

Peter Beinart, writing for Time, pointed out the obvious fact that the panty bomber failed, but suggested that his failure was a sign of the relative weakness of al Qaeda:

…Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was just one terrorist. Once upon a time, al-Qaeda’s modus operandi was to launch multiple, simultaneous attacks. That way, even if one attack failed, the entire operation wouldn’t…

Second, the underwear attack failed because Abdulmutallab wasn’t particularly well trained. The 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were personally selected by Osama bin Laden from the tens of thousands of potential killers who went through al-Qaeda’s Afghan training camps in the 1990s. The ringleaders got extensive training on the design of airplanes and the behavior of aircraft crews, even before they enrolled in U.S. flight schools. The grunts were made to slit the throats of camels and sheep to overcome their inhibitions about murder. Abdulmutallab, by contrast, reportedly used a syringe to try to detonate a notoriously hard-to-detonate explosive called PETN. “To make this stuff work,” says Van Romero, an explosives expert at New Mexico Tech, “you have to know what you’re doing.” Abdulmutallab, it appears, did not.

Beinart catalogues some of the things that have been done internationally to thwart al Qaeda’s ability to do what it did prior to the 9/11 attacks. Such efforts include “scrutinizing financial transactions and cell-phone calls,” as well as the use of drones to track al Qaeda leaders “around the clock.”  He even mentions the flawed no-fly lists, which today contain around 4000 names, compared to 16 before 9/11.

But the most surprising reminder from Beinart is the fact that al Qaeda is “under more pressure from fellow Muslims”  and that, “Al-Qaeda’s butchery has wrecked its image among ordinary Muslims“:

After jihadists bombed a wedding in Amman in 2005, the percentage of Jordanians who said they trusted bin Laden to “do the right thing” dropped from 25% to less than 1%. In Pakistan, the site of repeated attacks, support for al-Qaeda fell from 25% in 2008 to 9% the next year. In 2007, the Pew Research Center found that in Pakistan, Lebanon, Indonesia and Bangladesh, support for terrorism had dropped by at least half since 2002.

Because of such dissipating support, Muslim governments–if not Muslim religious leaders–are taking action, sometimes secretly, to root out terrorist cells or terrorist training camps, making it more difficult for them to train adequately potential terrorists to do the kind of damage that was done on 9/11.

So, in an odd way, the Christmas bombing attempt can be seen as good news for a reason beyond the fact that it was a failure.  As Beinart wrote,

…al-Qaeda seems to be relying more on solo operators, people like Abdulmutallab, Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Malik Hasan and Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan American arrested last year for allegedly plotting to blow up buildings in New York. These lone wolves are harder to catch, but they’re also less likely to do massive damage…Not exactly a cause for celebration, but certainly not cause for the hysteria that has gripped Washington since Christmas Day.

How Can We “Win”?

The AP reported today the following, which demonstrates just how complicated the Afghanistan “war” is and how difficult it will be to accomplish the stated goal of our increased presence there:

Thousands of Afghans shouting “Death to America!” protested the killings of children Thursday, the latest in a string of controversial cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops to use airstrikes judiciously and fire cautiously to reduce civilian casualties. Still, each new report of civilians killed unleashes raw emotions that highlight a growing impatience with coalition forces’ inability to secure the nation.

Despite the fact, as the story points out, that many more innocent civilians are killed by insurgents than by NATO or Afghan forces, the Taliban nevertheless uses the death of those accidentally killed as effective propaganda to turn the population against our efforts.

Even in situations where our side was clearly not involved in the death of innocents, we are vulnerable to such propaganda.  The story reports that Wednesday, “an explosion tore through a group of children gathered around foreign soldiers visiting a U.S.-funded road project in Nangarhar province.”  The result was:

Minutes after the blast, local residents were accusing American forces of throwing a grenade into the crowd — even though several international troops were among the wounded. The Afghan Interior Ministry later released a statement saying the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine.

Still, an estimated 5,000 protesters demonstrated the deaths Thursday along a road between Kabul and Jalalabad in Nangarhar. They waved a banner condemning the attack, set fire to an effigy of President Barack Obama and chanted “Long live Islam!” and “Death to Obama!”

“We are shouting ‘Death to America’ and ‘to the Afghan government,'” Sardar Wali, a university student at the demonstration. “It is the responsibility of the Afghan government to find and hand over the people who are responsible for this attack.”

It’s hard to conceive how we can “win” there, given such a situation.

Afghans chant anti-American slogans during a protest in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Thousands gathered to protest after four Afghan children and a policeman were killed and scores wounded, including at least three American troops when an explosion tore through a group of local residents and soldiers observing a road-construction project on Wednesday in Nangarhar province.
[Photo: Rahmat Gul / AP]

ELVIS IS 75

Happy Birthday To The Man

“We Will Not Succumb To A Siege Mentality”

Here is a transcript of the last three minutes of President Obama’s speech today regarding the reviews he had ordered over the government’s failure to “connect the dots” in preventing the Christmas Day terrorism attempt.

I chose the last three minutes because this part of the speech illustrates why I and others like me support Barack Obama.  His deliberate-first-then-decide methodology is a welcome change from the last administration. But it is his profound understanding of what makes America a special place and his ability to express it that sets him apart.

The final three paragraphs represent an antidote to the poison injected into the politics of our country by Dick Cheney and others on the right who just can’t abide Obama in the White House and have accused him of not taking his responsibilities to protect us seriously.  Those three paragraphs also represent the thoughts of a man who not only loves his country, but understands why he loves it.  

In my opinion, the following words will go down as one of Obama’s best moments:

Ultimately the buck stops with me. As President I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people. And when the system fails it is my responsibility.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been reminded again of the challenge we face in protecting our country against a foe that is bent on our destruction.  And while passions and politics can often obscure the hard work before us, let’s be clear about what this moment demands.

We are at war. We are at war against al Qaeda, a far reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.

We have made progress. Al Qaeda’s leadership is hunkered down. We have worked closely with partners including Yemen to inflict major blows against al Qaeda leaders. And we have disrupted plots at home and abroad and saved American lives.

We know that the vast majority of Muslims reject al Qaeda. But it is clear that al Qaeda  increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations, not just in the Middle East but in Africa and other places, to do their bidding.  That’s why I’ve directed my national security team to develop a strategy that addresses the unique challenges posed by lone recruits.

And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death, including the murder of fellow Muslims, while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. To advance that progress we’ve sought new beginnings with Muslim communities around the world. One in which we engage on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect and work together to fulfill the aspirations that all people share: to get an education, to work with dignity, to live in peace and security. That’s what America believes in. That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists. 

Here at home we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans. Because great and proud nations don’t hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries want and so long as I am President, we will never hand them that victory.  We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women, and children.

And in this cause every one of us—every American, every elected official—can do our part.  Instead of giving in to cynicism and division, let’s move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that defines us as a people. For now is not a time for partisanship; it is a time for citizenship. A time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands. That’s what it means to be strong in the face of violent extremism. And that’s how we will prevail in this fight. And that’s how we will protect our country and pass it—safer and stronger—to the next generation.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 642 other followers

%d bloggers like this: